Best known for her 21-year stint at Baylor, where she won three national titles, LSU coach Kim Mulkey has no interest in talking about Brittney Griner, refusing to address Griner’s imprisonment in Russia, where the Baylor alum has been jailed since February.
Griner, who led the Bears to an undefeated season en route to the 2012 National Championship, was arrested on drug charges and later sentenced to nine years in prison after vaporizer cartridges containing less than a gram of hash oil were discovered in her luggage. An eight-time WNBA All-Star, the 6’9” center had been legally prescribed medical marijuana in Arizona, where Griner has played for the Phoenix Mercury since 2013. To supplement their WNBA earnings (the league’s average salary is a little over $100,000), most players compete overseas during the offseason, which is what brought Griner to Russia.
Griner has received an outpouring of support from both the NBA and WNBA, with Steph Curry, LeBron James and others urging the United States government to free the 31-year-old from Russia, where she continues to be held as a political prisoner. However, it appears Mulkey won’t be entering the fray on behalf of her former player, preferring to keep the focus on basketball as she begins her second season in Baton Rouge.
Mulkey’s success—she headlined the Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020—has not come without controversy. The former point guard argued against COVID testing during the 2021 NCAA Tournament, an unpopular opinion that many, according to Shanna McCarriston of CBS Sports, characterized as “dangerous and irresponsible.” Despite the prevalence of gay and lesbian players in college basketball, Mulkey has never been vocal in her support of the LGBTQ community, even going so far as to encourage Griner to stay in the closet during her time at Baylor (she would later come out in 2013, shortly after being selected with the first pick of the WNBA Draft). Mulkey also defended Baylor throughout its highly publicized sexual assault scandal, though she later apologized for what she described as a “very poor choice of words.”
With athletes beginning to use their platforms as activists for social causes, sports and politics have grown increasingly entangled with one another, leaving Mulkey and others to navigate a new normal. Mulkey isn’t the first and surely won’t be the last to find this paradigm shift uncomfortable, though that doesn’t make her betrayal any less heartbreaking with Mulkey essentially turning her back on the best player she’s ever coached and the one most associated with her legacy.